Nation, World + Society

Number of Asian American public officials has reached historic levels, UCLA study shows

Asian American almanac
UCLA Asian American Studies Center

When the UCLA Asian American Studies Center published the first National Asian Pacific American Political Almanac in 1976, the directory highlighted just over 100 Asian Americans who had been elected or appointed to public office in just four states — Hawaii, California, Washington and Oregon.

Nearly 40 years later, the newly released 15th edition of the almanac lists more than 4,000 Asian Americans who currently hold public office in 39 states and the federal government.

"There has been exponential growth of the Asian American and Pacific Islander population, and this is reflected in the numbers of elected and appointed officials," said David K. Yoo, the center's director and a professor of Asian American studies. "They are also more geographically dispersed and more engaged as voters, donors and politicians."

The almanac documents this major increase in the Asian American population, which has grown from 1.5 million individuals in 1970 to more than 18 million today, with communities in every state in the U.S. According to the 2010 U.S. census, Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in the nation.

The almanac is an indispensable reference guide for students, community leaders, elected officials, researchers, journalists and others interested in Asian Americans’ growing political influence.

Co-edited by two leading specialists in Asian American politics — UCLA professor emeritus Don Nakanishi and Santa Clara University professor James Lai — the almanac also features essays on Asian American voting trends and other key data and findings.

"The Asian American and Pacific Islander population continues to build a viable, multifaceted political infrastructure that will have an increasingly influential impact on American politics throughout the 21st century," Nakanishi said. "They are striving to become more organized, more visible and more effective as participants and leaders in order to advance, as well as to protect, their individual and group interests."

The new edition of the almanac highlights a number of historic firsts demonstrating Asian-American electoral success:

  • In 2012, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii became the first Asian American woman, the first Asian immigrant woman and the first Buddhist to be elected to the U.S. Senate.
  • Female representatives now make up a majority of the current Asian American and Pacific Islander congressional caucus — seven out of 13 members.
  • In 2012, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii became the first Samoan American woman and the first Hindu American elected to the U.S. House or Representatives; Grace Meng became the House’s first Asian American to represent the state of New York; and Tammy Duckworth became the first Asian American congresswoman from Illinois and the first wounded female combat veteran in Congress.
  • With the recent elections of Bobby Jindal as governor of Louisiana and Nikki Haley as governor of South Carolina, there have now been more Asian Americans elected as state governors than any other ethnic minority group.
  • In 2010, two of the largest cities in California elected Asian American mayors: Edward Lee in San Francisco and Jean Quan in Oakland.

"The key question for the political future of Asian Americans is whether they can continue to develop political-incorporation efforts in cities, counties and states with significant and growing Asian American populations," Lai said. "This has been, and always will be, the political foundation of Asian Americans in American politics. The other key issue is the group’s political potential, as represented by the hundreds of elected officials featured in this edition’s political directory."

This year’s edition of the political almanac, funded by the Nielsen company, is dedicated to the late U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, a pioneer in Asian American politics.

To request review copies of the almanac, please email or call 310-825-2968. An electronic version of the almanac is also available for purchase online.

Founded in 1969, the UCLA Asian American Studies Center is dedicated to research, publications and other endeavors that enrich the understanding of the history, cultural heritage and experiences of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The center is recognized today as the premier research institution in the field of Asian American studies.

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